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Reconciliation Requires Truth

What happens after forgiveness?

Shireen Jeejeebhoy
Source: Shireen Jeejeebhoy

To forgive is divine, goes the saying. Modern thought states that forgiveness is the way to healing self.

"My professor, the late Lewis B. Smedes wrote: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.” Smedes wrote the book Forgive and Forget in 1984 which has been credited as the catalyst for modern forgiveness research." —Ryan Howes

But what happens after forgiveness? Is it enough to forgive? Do we simply want to feel better, or do we want to restore the relationship broken by betrayal, abandonment, bad thoughts towards oneself?

These are questions that come up during brain injury recovery because the litany of people who abandon the injured requires a response beyond nightly weeping.

The overriding message to those of us harmed by betrayal, abandonment, and injury is to forgive. Unfortunately, conversation around forgiveness ends at forgiveness and about the self: "It will make you feel better; it's about you not them." But that wasn't the original idea of forgiveness.

"The root of “forgive” is the Latin word “perdonare,” meaning “to give completely, without reservation.”" —The Word Detective

One of the most powerful images of forgiveness came 2000 years ago when Jesus from the cross forgave humanity. He didn't do it to make himself feel better. He gave completely to reconcile humanity with God. In a way, you can say that Jesus was a mediator.

Mediators work to reconcile opposing viewpoints or parties in a legal dispute. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario offers the option of mediating a disagreement between a patient and physician or surgeon, the idea being that "resolution is one you and your doctor have chosen together, rather than an outcome chosen by a committee."

Brain injury isolates the injured person; forgiveness won't alleviate the isolation. Only reconciliation can do that. That's why forgiveness is only one corner of a relational triangle, the other two being apology and reconciliation. While apology and forgiveness can happen apart from each other and reconciliation, reconciliation can only occur when both apology and forgiveness occur and when both are rooted in truth.

Sometimes, the health care professional who didn't educate themselves on brain injury sequelae and so misdiagnosed or made incorrect, hurtful assumptions about their client, will try to get by with an, "I'm sorry my approach hurt you." This puts distance between the person apologizing and the hurt they caused. This kind of apology isn't rooted in truth. It allows the speaker to avoid responsibility for their thoughts and feelings that lead to the wrong approach. It ensures that they don't learn about possible hidden confirmation biases, weaknesses in familiar therapeutic approaches, lack of listening, built-in antipathy to learning or leaving their comfort zone, and so on.

Another kind of apology from a family member or health care professional, "I'm sorry I hurt you," sounds like it takes on responsibility. The "I" statement acknowledges that the speaker hurt the person. Yet it, too, is not rooted in truth. By not specifying how they hurt the other person, they avoid facing up to the specific harm they caused and learning about their own thoughts, emotions, words, biases, and actions that lead to that harm. They can also use their seeming sincerity to shift responsibility for continuing strife onto the harmed person by saying, "I admitted to hurting you, so now you're just holding a grudge." They amplify the harm they did and keep it in the present.

Reconciliation is restoration. Just as a furniture maker cannot restore a beautiful cabinet without careful inspection, understanding the exact nature of the damage, and patient, focused work, the wrongdoer cannot restore the relationship that they broke without carefully inspecting their own thoughts, understanding the exact nature of the damage those thoughts lead to, speaking out loud what they did and have now learned to the person they harmed, and patiently working to incorporate those lessons and rebuild trust.

Yes, it's the wrongdoer who bears the burden of reconciliation, for it was their bad thoughts and selfish actions that broke the relationship in the first place. More so when it's a health care professional who harmed their client. The first step towards reconciliation is an effective apology.

Christopher Bergland wrote about the six steps of an effective apology, noting:

"The researchers concluded that while the best apologies contained all six elements, not all of these components are equal. In a statement, Lewicki said, "Our findings showed that the most important component is an acknowledgement of responsibility. Say it is your fault, that you made a mistake. The second most important element was an offer of repair.”"

When the wrongdoer offers to repair the relationship, they're acknowledging that they're responsible for breaking it and thus for restoring it. This is truth.

In Matthew 5:23 in the Bible, Jesus didn't only tell his followers to forgive; he also told them that when you know someone holds something against you, go and reconcile. He did this after he spoke about facing up to our thoughts and how they lead to actions that harm others. Health care professionals in an individual therapy setting cannot tell those with brain injury to go and reconcile as it would put responsibility for the rift on the shoulders of the one harmed instead of where it lies —and brain injury makes that sort of communication difficult as well. Health care professionals running group therapy can, though, hold the wrongdoers responsible and guide them through the six steps of an effective apology, guide the person with brain injury through the tough process of forgiveness, and bring the two or more together in the intense, patient work of reconciliation.

If the health care professional himself or herself has done the harm, then surely they need to go and reconcile with their client, beginning with the six-step apology.

Copyright ©2019 Shireen Anne Jeejeebhoy. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission.

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